Tuesday, 27 June 2006

The queen of the tambourine

This book is kind of like a walk down memory lane for me. At 13, I lived with my grandmother and grandaunt while our parents went for Haj. A few years earlier, my grandparents stayed with us while my father did his Masters in Manila.

The Queen of the Tambourine is actually the book I didn't mentioned in this earlier post. I was being cautious at the moment. I don't know if the book was recommedable to others (except maybe the liberal-minded who are open to anything). But after finishing it I could say that it is one of my most memorable reading experiences.

Let me reintroduce you to Eliza, Mrs. Peabody to the people of Rathbone Road, an undefatigable volunteer at The Hospice of The Dying, and member of the Wives' Fellowship. She's steadily going through her middle-age years and life seems to be going well, except for one thing, or rather person. Joan is the one neighbour Eliza couldn't seem to catch. The next thing she knows is Joan has left everything: family, neighbourhood, country and all, to travel to places like Dacca and Prague. Her reasons for doing so remains a mystery to even Joan's own family.

Curiosity drives Eliza to write letters to Joan, and that's how whole story is told. Letters after letters, all chronicling her days following Joan's unexpected departure.

On Eliza's side of life, things aren't quite rosy either. Her husband suddenly decides to leave her to live with another man, more precisely, Joan's husband. Joan's daughter, clueless of her own mother's whereabouts, calls Eliza to Oxford after becoming pregnant while still in her second term. Eliza barely knows Joan, but slowly their lives are fast getting entwined in ways Eliza never could've imagined.

Along the story, new and interesting people help shed light on who Eliza really is. Eliza finds companionship in Barry, of the hospice's patient, who seems like the only person able to make sense of what Eliza's going through.

Her brief encounter with the Deecies, her neighbour's parents visiting from out of town, helps her see what it's like to have a child married and living away (Eliza is childless).

The evening with Nick Fish's (one the hospice's commitee member) children as a bidan terjun babysitter turns out to be extremely delightful. The children are wiser beyond their years and seeing them enjoying her company restores Eliza's own faith in herself.

There were also the Penumbras, a Middle-Eastern family who once lived in Rathbone Road. They help reveal to us that Eliza's husband is a former diplomatic officer, and they both have lived in countries like Syria, Iran and Iraq.

And of course, there's Anne, the cousin who Eliza is unfavourably compared to all her life. Despite her contant attempts to not say nothing bad about Anne, Eliza's frustrations are far from being completely hidden, especially after the events told in the later parts of the book.

After finishing the last letter, we're able to finally decipher of code of Eliza Peabody. She sounds defeated, but she is never deterred. She looks confounded, but she is unmistakenly clever. Much of her life may already pass her by, but in the end she manages to find the strength remain hopeful about any uncertainties in the future.

A wonderful ending, an admirable lead character and plenty of humourous moments (courtesy of Eliza own's wit that even she fails to realise), this book is a window to the side of life that few ever care to peer into. But for those who do, they might be able to catch a glimpse at something surprisingly, and even perhaps pleasantly, familiar.


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